Knives wrote:Incidentally, maybe part of the reason I have issues accepting/recognizing the series (Why do so many of the fans insist on the incorrect use of the word 'saga'? The poor word has been beaten down enough by fantasy trilogists - don't add to its pain!) as mythic is the lack of, well, mythic elements. Yes, the paranormal abounds, but it reads (and this is as politely as I can make this statement accurately) like fan fiction much of the time; Ms. Meyer's attempts at creating her own mythos/preternatural realm seem clumsy; her attempts to draw on real-world myths are literally nonexistent, to the point of having offended the real Quillettes (*Hopes he spelled that right*) by mangling their mythology. I grew up steeped in myth - Greek, Norse, Celtic, Egyptian, American Gothic, Urban Legends - the list goes on and on, and there's a little voice in my head that says that if I'm not recognizing myth in Twilight, maybe Twilight got it wrong. MAYBE, mind, being the key word.
Myth has a certain resonance, theme, and style, which I don't really see much in the Twilight series. Being mythic does not necessarily mean drawing upon real-world myth, but it does mean being aware of it and learning from it....
...When Ms. Meyer chose the word "vampire", she was, willingly or not, inheriting centuries of mythic evolution, cultural expectations, and the works of other authors, all of which - amazingly - have some commonalities in terms of mood and theme. The biggest reason that many vampire fans scream blood and death at the series is because Ms. Meyer completely violated these moods and themes while simultaneously making her interpretation incredibly popular. She could have called them just about anything else - fairies, immortals, demigods, whatever - but she chose vampires, and the series suffers the consequence of that choice.
Ok. (*deep breath*). I’m struggling to articulate my thoughts here: myth is an elusive notion, and I suspect there are some useful conceptual tools for talking intelligently about it which I lack. More important, what I’m gesturing towards with all this talk about “myth” and “fairytales” probably isn’t really myth exactly, but something else: something related, but hard to pin down.
So bear with me.
Perhaps the first thing I should say is that I agree with you and hofj: paranormal or mythic elements do not themselves make a story mythic. Though they do make it fantasy, and thus arguably to be distinguished from realist fiction -- which I think might be JazzGirl’s point? (Though see my latest ramblings on the Bella thread: with Stephenie this is not a straightforward distinction). Anyway whatever I’m talking about, it’s not the supernatural per se, least of all references to actual Native American myths or vampire legends! I’m with hofj: those legends are plot devices. In fact I might even go so far as to say that for Stephenie, making her hero a “vampire” was a plot device of sorts: nothing more than the particular gloss her subconscious put on the essential -- almost primal -- premise of her dream (and eventual novel): a boy torn in two by the overwhelming urge to kill the girl he loves. Twilight is not about a dark, insatiable craving for human blood per se, but something much more abstract and mythic: a beautiful sparkly boy balancing on a knife edge between adoring a girl and destroying her. The fact that Edward wants to drink Bella’s blood is almost incidental to this central truth: it’s Edward’s terrible struggles against his own nature, the eerie overlapping of tenderness and menace, which matter. THIS is Stephtenie’s subject, and you’re absolutely right, Knives, when you observe that all the usual moods and themes of vampire legend: gothic fantasies of darkness, of monsters siphoning off life to prolong life, of blood even, in any vividly imagined -- gorey -- way, are all completely absent. Despite appearances, Twilight isn't really a vampire story at all: it’s much too “nice” for that: wholesome as a family picnic. No surprise that it infuriates devotees of traditional vampire lore!
But these things are absent because they were never of the slightest interest to Stephenie. She didn’t fail at invoking the vampire mythos, she discarded it. The notion of the vampire was simply a convenient cultural shorthand for forbidden, lethal desire -- which what her story is actually about. You’re quite right: if fairies or demigods could have evoked Edward’s battle with his cravings equally successfully, she could certainly have used those instead. (I don’t in fact think they could, which is why her subconscious chose well -- but I take your wider point). And where Stephenie gets drawn into elaborating her vampire world, I have to agree that -- apart from Volterra -- it’s a terrible artistic misstep. Stephenie’s gifts are not those of world-creation, and the more detailed her vampire myth becomes, the more we are distracted from the original “mythic” story -- archetypal morality tale, whatever you want to call it -- which her vampires were originally called into being to tell.
But this is my point. Yes, mythic narratives are often embedded of a rich tapestry of interwoven story (Tolkien’s extraordinary body of invented legend being the preeminent modern example) -- and maybe strictly speaking, to be “mythic” they have to be. But there’s a looser sense of “mythic” which is a freestanding characteristic of narratives themselves, irrespective of their place in a wider mythos, and that’s what I’d argue Stephenie’s original story has got. I’m having a terrible time pinning down precisely what this quality is: some constellation of attributes which doesn’t correspond precisely to “myth” or “epic” or “Romance” or “Faery” or “morality tale” or to our notions of the primal, archetypal, ritual, emblematic, allegorical etc., but overlaps with all of them. And I’m pretty convinced that this -- shall we call it “mythlike”? -- quality is one of the things which gives Twilight its potency and allows it to work on the reader, despite its evident inadequacy as either realist novel or modern mythos. Just as the story of Oedipus doesn’t really depend on its place in the wider Greek mythology to act upon our imagination -- because it’s operating at the most primitive level of intuitive understanding -- I think there are deep, archetypal elements of Stephenie’s story at work below the frothy mixture of girl romance and paranormal fantasy we find on the books’ surface.
Does that mean we can’t simply enjoy that frothy confection? Not at all. It’s a brilliant edifice of fantasies, shrewdly constructed. And there’s a telling underlay of psychological realism woven through the fantastical which gives the froth substance -- more than enough to keep us engaged. (Or so I’ve argued elsewhere). But to answer your question, hofj -- are we taking this story a tad too seriously? -- I’m not sure we are. Seems to me that there really is a serious dimension to this story; that Stephenie meant this as a morality tale as well as a delicious romance; that it was shaped by her need to grapple with the moral and theological issues raised by her original dream premise. So that it’s legitimate to ask how she does it, and whether she has pulled it off. Which is (I think) where Knives and I have got to.
Now I still haven’t explained very well WHY I’m claiming Twilight has these mythlike undercurrents, or where exactly I think they lie. And that’s not something it’s easy to precis, because it grows out of the whole way I read this story. Perhaps you can get a glimpse of “where I’m coming from” from some of my old posts on the original Choices thread -- the place where a lot of these ideas were first hammered out. You might find the whole conversation illuminating, in that it has a subtly different take on Stephenie’s story than commonly found here. For now, perhaps I could quote something I wrote somewhere else a while ago:
the story of TW made a kind of emotional, almost mythopoeic sense. The large bold shapes all added up to something even if the details were preposterous, examined close-up: a mythopoeic narrative about love triumphing over darkness through sacrifice and suffering. You had a boy and a girl in love. He worshipped the ground she walked on, dreamed of nothing but to devote himself to her, cherish her, protect her (as he well could, being nearly omniscient and omnipotent) -- and also to kill her. For her part, she adored him so helplessly (and selflessly) that she would walk open-eyed to her destruction to return that love. A heroine who in effect had slipped out of life into the world of mythology, of perfect lovers and impossible, epic choices and a passion so strong it has no place -- as Bella herself observes -- in the real world. Pretty powerful stuff. And Stephenie carries this grand and romantic premise to its grand and romantic fulfillment: the boy's strength and goodness triumph over his own dark nature, the girl's courage is rewarded, and love is ascendant. Curtain falls on mythic romance.
I guess it seems to me that the story Stephenie lays out for us -- at least in the sequence from Tw to Ec (and I’ve written elsewhere about why I think BD is discontinuous with that story) -- turns on the abstract, spiritual implications of the sacrifices which Edward and Bella choose to make for one another. Choices which reverberate through her story and lift it to the level of contemporary myth-making. As Truelove1 put it once: the sacrifice of everything for love. Pretty mythic, in my book anyway...
Knives wrote:In myth, vampirism is an unholy curse; in Twilight, it is physical transcendence into the realm of immortal perfection. What incentive is there to remain human, aside from the murky question of one's soul...
Ok, so now I really am at a loss where to begin to find common ground in this conversation because it’s FOUNDATIONAL to my reading of this story that being a vampire -- one of Stephenie’s vampires -- is at best a glass half-empty: a doom as much as a blessing. Yes, it is eternal love, immortality, speed, strength, beauty, but also a half-life of unnatural changelessness and loathsome desires and a painful, unending battle against temptation. I’m pretty convinced that Stephenie means us to understand this. Even if the sugary denouement of BD ends up fixing our gaze firmly on the rose-tinted side of the bargain. The fifty-odd pages of discussion on the old Choices thread are pretty much predicated on this premise. To the point that I don’t think I could begin to summarize why I believe this: it’s woven into practically everything I’ve ever written here! If you’re interested I can point you to some relevant pages. But I think we'll need to hammer this out before we can get much further here....(*grin*).
Openhome wrote:I realize that she isn't a Tolkien, but her method is much the same (with less description of the world around her). She took creatures that are unlike anything we know, and made them real enough to see ourselves in them, yet undefined enough that we can all fit somewhere in their characters.
That is, in the end the strength of all mythos. We can all be Juliet, or Frodo, or Samwise, or Lucy who walks through a wardrobe, or Alice who is lost in a rabbit hole -- because we have all felt impossible love, immeasurable loss and loneliness, improbable courage, undeniable wonder, and unrelenting confusion. Seriously, who HASN"T met someone that reminds them of the Mad Hatter?
Yes, exactly! If you’ll forgive me for quoting something I wrote last summer on the Bella thread:
Twilight is a fantasy: archetypal, shot through with wish-fulfillment, sprung out of a dream-scenario so rife with psychological overtones that it really doesn't bear thinking about too closely! This is meant to be a story about impossible, unattainable (and literally eternal) love -- a love so deep, so unreasonable, so unanswerable that it could actually justify the appalling sacrifices which (as Stephenie certainly sees it) Bella is prepared to make. What Stephenie is doing is more like a piece of myth-making or a fable, than writing a novel about real-life love.
But...the characters who people that myth are not mythic in the slightest. Of course, they're not exactly realistic either: Edward is an obvious confection of fantasies; Bella has been made -- deliberately -- a kind of under-specified Everyteen. But Stephenie has an undeniable knack for making them vividly real to the reader. Their voices may be cliched and predictable, but somehow they ring true to life. In this sense, yes they are "realist" characters. And paradoxically, this is one of the things that gives the myth-making its power: readers "relate" to Bella and are pulled into her story; the vividness and immediacy of her narration gives Twilight an emotional power which true myths don't have for a modern audience.
Openhome wrote: This is not just mythos, it is religious in its theme. In every culture, those who give up power to love and serve are revered above all others. Perhaps I am reading much more into the stories than I should. Maybe it was a silly dream that became a best selling book and then a blockbuster movie and that is all it is. Maybe it's a mindless fad that had led now to werewolves.,zombies, and now angels. But I truly think SM is deeper than most people give her credit for.
Well as you’ll have gathered, I couldn’t agree more. One doesn’t have to read the series this way: the delicious, featherlight romantic fantasy which Stephenie has concocted for us is pleasure enough. But I don’t think you’re wrong to read more in them than that. There's more to Stephenie than meets the eye: one has only to look at The Host to see that -- a book transfixed by the solemn themes (love and sacrifice, the double-edged gift of immortality, the preciousness of being human) one finds peeping out through Twilight's sweet adolescent romance. If you haven’t done so already, you might enjoy reading through the old Choices thread in the Lexicon Archive -- you’ll find yourself in good company there!
*looks back at length of post and blenches apologetically*